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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Hero or Narcissist

How does a national hero suddenly become a narcissistic nut?

When the book, A Man, came out in the early 1980s, I was barely 30 years old. At that time, Panagoulis was a brave Greek freedom fighter. My opinion of him was heavily swayed by the fact that I was enamored by my own Greek rebel who adored the book and the character.

Now, however, thirty years later as I've finally gotten around to reading it, Panagoulis seems more like a self-absorbed narcissist. But it's the woman who loved him intensely who has convinced me of this.

Oriana Fallaci was, without a doubt, a gifted writer which remains apparent throughout the book. But she had the opportunity to depict Panagoulis, the man she claimed to love, as the superhero many Greeks saw him. Yet her portrayal of Panagoulis seems more like a psychological profile of a very self-centered hyperactive boy. When someone suggests to Panagoulis that his desire to create another act of defiance against the dictator, is really his own ego trying to stay in the limelight, Fallaci says, "I hoped this would be a beneficial crisis," as she alludes to a sort of agreement with this assertion. Later, as Panagoulis hatches a new idea for rebellion and must wait for all the pieces to fall into place, Fallaci writes, "waiting. . . was the acid test of your stubbornness, of the monomania that afflicted you every time your faith spawned an idea and the idea became a psychosis." There is a moment when Panagoulis seems to reach a turning point and tells Fallaci that he has changed and that, "the real bombs are ideas. Any imbecile can pull a trigger." But he's lied so much to her, that the reader feels a sense of frustration when she believes him.

Along with these statements, there are the situations in which Panagoulis blatantly disregards Fallaci's feelings or well-being. He wants a "companion" and is a lonely man, yet he sneaks blocks of TNT into Fallaci's bag without her knowledge. In fact he lies to her and tells her, it's a rock from the archeological site which they're visiting when his TNT contact, slips him the explosive. Fallaci doesn't find out his lie until they've left the park. Panagoulis' actions are constantly a testament to his self-image, his own needs and his disregard for others.

Okay, so maybe the translator of this text makes Panagoulis seem like a narcissist and the original version, written in Italian, does not have the same cutting choice of words and phrases. After all, I've learned from translator, Franca Scurti Simpson, that translation is an art and not all translators would choose the same path with any given translation task. Unfortunately, neither the author nor the translator are still alive so we are unable to ask them.

So, I've asked several Greeks what they thought of the dictatorship in Greece and their ideas of Panagoulis.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

When Your Dad has Alzheimer's . . .

You watch him deteriorate with a mixture of sadness and frustration. But there is also fear. It's a fear that permeates every bone of your body, and after he's gone, that fear slips to the background, rearing its head now and then. A forgotten name, a missed appointment, lost car keys . . . that's normal, right? But as you age, you count the years between you and that deadline, the one in which you surmise it all began for him   . . . but nobody is really sure when exactly it did begin. After he passes away at the age of 79, mom tells you it was a 20-year disease. He hid it from us all, she says. And I understand this now. Yes, he probably did.

It was very hard for mom to watch him slip into oblivion. She brought him back to Long Island from their home in Florida, hoping to remain, but instead, it turned into a short visit. During that time, dad was hospitalized for a fall he'd taken at my brother's house. By then, he'd already lost most of his ability to communicate. He was often confused and agitated. It was my turn to stay overnight with him at the hospital. When I got there to relieve my sister-in-law, his wrists were tied to the bed to keep him in it. Her face was ashen and she said, "The nurse did it." I took some small scissors from my purse and cut the ties. His hands were free. I quickly reached into my bag and pulled out a salami sandwich. I unwrapped it and put it in his hand. He smiled and began to eat.

But he refused to stay in bed. He got up and walked around and I walked with him, and the nursing staff gently tried to suggest he shouldn't be walking around. I wish I knew the name of that one nurse who came up to us as we shuffled along the corridor. It was way after midnight and she said, "he likes to walk, doesn't he? Okay, then let's walk." And she took his other arm and began to sing, I was walking in the park one day. . .  And dad began to sing along with her. He seemed happy for a few minutes. But the usual agitation soon returned. I think he just wanted to go home . . . wherever that was. He began hitting and yelling and I tried to talk to him. "Please, dad."

Saturday, April 1, 2017

What's in a name?


The Greeks and Italians share a common custom of confusion. It's in the naming of their first-born sons. When the parents of a first-born son follow tradition, that child gets his paternal grandfather's name which means when an extended family gets together for an event, it results in several cousins with the same name, and a scene such as that in the clip above from, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

In both cultures, the results are some interesting nicknames to distinguish who is who. For example, Grandpa Anthony might have a fifty-something-year-old grandson, Little Anthony, and a thirty-something-year-old GREAT-grandson, Baby Anthony. The nicknames are created to distinguish one from another but somehow once created, become as permanent as cement. In a situation where cousins and extended family have several Anthonys, the nicknames can become quite creative and are often very telling of one's personality or physical features. And sometimes that nickname just comes up because of a momentary situation that never again presents itself but leaves the recipient with that unusual label, thereby changing his identity for eternity.